Tuesday, October 5, 2010
There Comes a Voice
I had heard that the war has forced Cousin Betty to stay out at Greenwood, past the Orange County Court House, about fifteen miles west of the Wilderness. My curiosity about the nurse named Whitman and my longing for an excuse to travel alone spurred me down those familiar plank roads to find her. By desire or design, I found her there, packing to move further west to Lexington with her family. She was surprised and happy to see me; so many friends and relatives shall not be seen again. She took me aside and told me about the books she had hidden at Ellwood. After a short visit, I said goodbyes, as I was eager to return to Ellwood; in this lunacy that we have substituted for society, we never know when some cold soldiers will use fine old books for fire starter.
I was elated to find three books on her library shelf secreted behind thick volumes of Wordsworth and Tennyson. Betty told me that these books would not be considered proper reading for a lady. Betty always appeared proper, but I knew well her sly little smile when she had a mischievous thought, and she had many, mostly when the men in the parlor smoked cigars and pontificated about grand ideas; thoroughly pompous elder statesmen they were, and thoroughly unread.
I gave the caretaker at Ellwood a note from Betty to borrow the books and have used every free minute this last two months to read them. The first book was quite new, only a couple years old; Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. There are passages on evolution in this large scientific exploration that are so beautiful, I feel I am reading poetry, not botany or biology. I can see why this volume was kept hidden; there would be no peace in the parlor with a debate raging about where we originated.
The second book, with a penciled inscription on the front page, was bought in Boston at the Old Corner Bookstore in 1855. This small volume of poems would be even more shocking and risqué to the elders; Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, the very same man that was nursing soldiers at Fredericksburg. Whitman's name does not even appear on the book, except on the copyright and in one of the untitled poems; I assume because he feels he is one of the many; the many voices of America. Marianna said he had accompanied the hospital train back to Washington in January. These poems are rough and flamboyant, but it is a book that puts into poetry my thoughts and whispers of this last year; if I could actually write from my deepest heart, these would be my words. That such a being walked in the halls, just across the river, where I have walked is beyond my comprehension. From the other side of the river, there comes this voice so powerful that I shall never be the same. Had Marianna not met this man and forwarded his presence to me, I might have traveled this land a lifetime and never known that there is a voice for us all; a voice for America and the world. Both of these books leave me with the belief that originally we all grew out of one, and remain one with all.
The third book, Hermetic Mystery, a book on Alchemy, was published anonymously in 1850. It contains much arcane language, so it has been very hard to read, but one alchemical dictum reached me and put sense into the nonsense of this war. In Latin: Solve et Coagula — "dissolve and coagulate". Separate, and Join Together. This seems so right; our loose union of states necessarily had to be broken down completely in order to rise again in a new form, a pure and whole union.
In just three books, each recently written by a poet, a scientist, and a mystic, there is hope in a hopeless world, a promise of a new age of enlightenment. At last, I can see beyond my madness and the hysteria of this world. All of my questions have not been answered; I do not ask that they should, but this short verse from the Whitman book has given me a guideline to pull upon:
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign’d by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that where-soe’er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.
These words are not my own, I pass them along as they were passed to me. One need only open books and read; all words, all worlds will open to them and be known.